Visited: Thursday, July 23, 2020 at 11 a.m.
It goes without saying that times are tough in the restaurant business, so amidst the closures – temporary and permanent – we’re taking joy in any restaurant taking the bold step of opening during a pandemic. And that makes us especially delighted to be able to go out (safely!) and try a new breakfast place.
Enter: Cafe Elena.
Cafe Elena is a mother/daughter affair, tucked into the Crown Plaza strip on Bethel Road on the city’s northwest side. The front is pretty unassuming except for a brightly colored sign. The interior, as you can see, extends far into the building. It’s brightly lit, with natural woods accented by oranges, greens, and aquas.
The real treat is how the menu takes a stroll through international breakfast dishes. You’ll find flavors from the U.S., Mexico, Russia, Great Britain, the Mediterranean, Germany, Italy, France, Spain, and beyond. The breakfast menu on their website just begs for multiple visits to experience it all.
But we had to pick four things for this first visit, and we touched on American, British, Mediterranean, and Russian flavors.
Owen chose the Full-Course American: eggs your way, caramelized bacon, home fries, a buttermilk pancake, and a side of oatmeal or granola yogurt parfait. All well executed, although they accidentally brought him scrambled versus fried eggs (which they quickly remedied), and the home fries were a little undercooked and under-seasoned.
Kudos to the hearty bowl of oatmeal made with rolled oats.
Beth went the Mediterranean route, essentially an excellent and well-seasoned frittata with red onions and shitakes, served with sides of fresh pita, hummus, olive oil, olives, feta, cucumbers, and tomatoes. (She added a couple falafel, too.) This is her favorite way to eat, almost like a charcuterie board, with small bites of meats, cheeses, olives, and dips.
I’m always searching for a good English breakfast, so I dove into that. It’s not a true English; for instance, you’re getting American breakfast sausage links and not bangers, but it still comes together. Props to the grilled tomato, mushrooms, and the especially caramelized bacon. My toast arrived barely buttered, and the home fries were again undercooked and under-seasoned.
Will loves everything sweet, and our server suggested the Elena’s Specialty crepes to him. They were a highlight of the meal: two giant crepes stuffed with a Russian sweet cheese and topped with a bourbon berry compote.
We can certainly say we left satisfied, even if there were some minor misses. And the menu invites further exploration: nova lox crepes, a Spanish frittata skillet, pancakes with sweet ricotta cannoli cream, brioche French toast, buckwheat porridge (called the Russian Grandma), and something called the Super-Charged Netherland – scrambled eggs with chia seeds, coconut milk, spinach.
And who can forget that Cafe Elena is also a bakery, with a display case loaded with beautiful confections! We took home slices of tiramisu – they were delectable.
One final note about COVID safety: the experience felt very safe. We wouldn’t have gone (or would have ordered carryout) if it wasn’t. Everyone in masks, tables very well spaced out, paper menus, single use condiments, etc.
I’m excited to make some return trips to Cafe Elena, and I’m especially looking forward to the days when places like this can be bustling and full of activity once again. I can see Cafe Elena becoming one of those city favorites, where people pack in the waiting area on weekends.